"The essentials for a successful Halloween party are: a number of jolly young people brought together, an air of mystery pervading the gathering space, some good things to eat and a leader who knows the time-honored games of fate." Quoted from Dennison's Bogie book.
"Suggestions for Halloween Parties" sums up the rules for throwing a Halloween party, Victorian style. So, with Halloween right around the corner, let's have some fun doing the time warp and seeing how people celebrated the night of fright a hundred years ago.
Like most occasions in the Victorian Age, Halloween called for a party. However, parties in the early 1900s differed drastically from how we celebrate today. For starters, Victorian Halloween parties weren't huge ragers with copious amounts of booze. Instead, parties were elaborate social events. Postcard invitations would be sent out weeks beforehand, with a detailed picture on the back and a rhyme or riddle on the front. Take this rhyme as an example:
"Tho awful wails of ghost and sprite
And fearful sights infest the night
Don't be afraid o' the witches' power
But come at the appointed hour."
When you entered the place of the party, it would usually be completely dark. Victorians loved creating a vibe for Halloween. This meant that houses must be completely dark, only illuminated by the light of candles or jack-o-lanterns. In addition to the spooky ambient lights, Victorians were big on handmade decorations. This was mainly due to the lack of industry; no manufacturing equals no mass-produced Halloween items. Instead, Victorians would make their decorations out of commonplace items like crepe paper or paper mache. Keeping with the DIY decor, people would also use natural materials to decorate, too. Dead tree branches and lots and lots of leaves were standard for creating a perfect Halloween table setting. In addition, often undesirable parts of Victorian houses would be used to create a spooky atmosphere. Places like the laundry rooms would be transformed into creepy scenes to backdrop a lively party. However, the most coveted location for a Halloween party in 1922 was the barn. Similar to a big house with no parents, barns provided a place of mystery and excitement, adding to the spookiness of Halloween.
At these Victorian parties, the guests would partake in fortune-telling games. These games reflect the general attitudes toward Halloween. While we in 2022 associate the holiday with gore and consumerism, Victorians saw Halloween as a much more romantic affair. Halloween parties were one of the few places young people could flirt with one another without breaking social rules. Fortune-telling games at Halloween parties were played to predict things like love, luck and marriage. Tamer activities evolved into the parlor games played at Victorian house parties, whereas the more daring ones became cautionary tales told to scare the listeners. Popular fortune games included apple paring, a game where the participants would peel an apple in one continuous motion and then throw the peels over their left shoulder. Afterward, the participants would look at the peels, and whatever letter they saw in them would be their future lover's letter. For a bit of Victorian Halloween fun, try playing Dumb Cake: a Halloween game where the players bake a cake in complete silence and whoever comes to eat a piece of cake first is supposedly your future lover. Warning: do not play with hungry roommates around.
So as we wrap up our blast from the past, let us remember the delightfully weird ways Victorians celebrated Halloween. While their traditions may seem antiquated or lame, some of their traditions are fun. Try taking a page out of the 1922 book this Halloween, you may end up enjoying it, or you may end up summoning a Victorian ghost. Either way, your night will be ghoulishly cool.